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Why the End of Affirmative Action Is Good for Black Science Students

New York Post

July 8, 2023

“Corporate diversity in the crosshairs.” That was a typical headline after last week’s Supreme Court decision declaring the use of racial preferences in college admissions unconstitutional.

Panic has set in among the chattering classes about what will happen to “workplace diversity” as a result of the ruling. 

Not only do observers fear that the court — whose majority opinion states that “eliminating racial discrimination means eliminating all of it” — will soon take aim at corporate DEI programs, but also that the pipeline of racial minorities into top-quality jobs will decline as a consequence. 

In fact, the result may actually be the opposite — particularly in science and technology. 

The “mismatch” problems created by racial preferences in admissions have been well documented.

Regardless of race, there are real consequences to admitting kids with significantly lower test scores and from less rigorous high schools and expecting them to perform in college as well as their more qualified peers.

In 1996 California voters passed Proposition 209, which prohibited the consideration of race in admissions to public universities. 

The “hair on fire” crowd ran around yelling that this immediately reduced the number of black and Hispanic students admitted to UCLA and UC Berkeley, the most “selective” schools within the 10-campus UC system. 

But what they didn’t acknowledge was that overall UC graduation rates improved among black and Hispanic kids. 

(Perhaps that’s why a much-discussed New York Times story from this past weekend looking at the use of “adversity scores” at UC Davis’ medical school focused solely on black and Hispanic admission rates while failing to detail the actual number of black and Hispanic graduates).

In his book on affirmative action, UCLA law professor Richard Sander found that after racial preferences were banned, there was a 55% increase in the number of black and Hispanic freshmen who graduated in four years from the University of California and a 51% rise in black and Hispanic students who earned degrees in STEM. 

The kids who went to less selective schools were now actually qualified to be there, they could handle the workload and they actually graduated.

The explanation for this difference in STEM graduation rates in particular is obvious to anyone who has spent time sitting in a college classroom. 

Math and science classes are tough. They use objective standards. And there is less grade inflation. It is simply harder to keep up if your classmates have had better preparation. And they definitely did.

According to the Department of Education, less than one-third of schools that predominantly serve black students offer calculus, and only 40% offer physics. Only 9% of black students nationwide take advanced-placement courses in high school.

According to research conducted at the University of Texas at Austin and Florida International University, black, white, and Hispanic students declare STEM majors at roughly the same rates

But while 58% of white students end up earning a STEM degree, only 43% of Hispanics and 34% of black kids do so. 

Instead, many black students either switch majors to something in the social sciences or humanities or leave school entirely. Which benefits no one – especially black students.

While researchers have all sorts of academic gobbledygook explanations for these findings —“STEM degree programs and college classrooms are purposively constructed as exclusionary spaces . . . minority students experience these spaces while subjected to specific stereotypes about their presumed inferior cognitive and mathematical ability”— these do not account for improved graduation rates for black and Hispanic kids in STEM fields at less selective schools. 

Is a math classroom not an “exclusionary space” within those other classrooms?

In fact, the answer to the STEM pipeline problem has always been made clear by the success of HBCUs.

Since these schools do not employ racial preferences, the black students who are there are not necessarily struggling to keep up.

It turns out that only 8.5% of black undergraduate students attend HBCUs, yet almost 18% of the black STEM bachelor’s degrees awarded nationwide are from these institutions.

Elites in the media not surprisingly seem to care more about graduation rates at elite schools — even if it means more black kids winding up with sociology degrees instead of the STEM major they originally planned to pursue. 

But the truth is that even kids who graduate from less prestigious schools with STEM degrees do quite well in the work world. 

As a 2016 Wall Street Journal study found, “For business and other liberal arts majors, the prestige of the school has a major impact on future earnings expectations. 

But for [STEM] it largely doesn’t matter whether students go to a prestigious, expensive school or a low-priced one — expected earnings turn out the same.” 

This is why the end of race-based affirmative action in college admissions might end up increasing the number of black mechanical engineers — while decreasing the number of black sociologists. 

About the Author

Naomi Schaefer Riley